Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tolerating Intolerance

Bruce Bawer moved to Western Europe in 1998.

For various reasons, Western European Muslims are more likely than their American counterparts to live in tightly knit religious communities, to adhere to a narrow fundamentalist faith, and to resist integration into mainstream society. The distance between mainstream society and the Muslim subculture can be especially striking in the Netherlands and in the countries of Scandinavia, whose relatively small, ethnically homogeneous native populations had, until recent decades, little or no experience with large-scale immigration from outside Europe.

The distance I speak of was certainly striking in Amsterdam, where I resided for a time in a neighborhood–the Oud West–where I grew accustomed to the sight of women in chadors pushing baby carriages past shops with signs in Arabic. A few doors from my flat, a huge Turkish flag flew over the entrance to the neighborhood center. (There was no Dutch flag.) One day I peered inside. A dozen or so men, middle-aged and older, scowled back at me. I did not go in.

Curious about my new neighbors, I did some reading. I learned that upwards of 7 percent of the Netherlands’ population–and nearly half of Amsterdam’s–was of non-Dutch origin. The Turkish and Moroccan communities dated back to the 1970s; immigration from Surinam and the Dutch Antilles had peaked in the 1980s. Most people of non-Dutch origin were fundamentalist Muslims, and most, even after years or decades in the Netherlands, remained largely unintegrated. The attitudes of Dutch officialdom, and of the Dutch generally, hadn’t helped: although in America the U.S.-born children of immigrants are American citizens, in the Netherlands the Dutch-born children of immigrants are called "second-generation immigrants." (The same is true in Germany, where even "third-generation immigrants"–and, yes, they do use that term–aren’t automatically entitled to citizenship.)

To an American, such a generation-by-generation perpetuation of outsider status can only make one think of the enduring social marginality of many American blacks. Yet at least we Americans have been taught by our bloody history that "separate but equal" is not a viable democratic option, but a cruel delusion. This lesson, I soon recognized, had not yet been learned in the Netherlands. Downtown Amsterdam and the Oud West felt almost like two different worlds. Moving among the native Dutch, whose public schools teach children to take for granted the full equality of men and women and to view sexual orientation as a matter of indifference, I felt safe and accepted. Yet many Muslim youngsters in the Netherlands attend private Islamic academies (many of which receive subsidies from the Dutch state as well as from the governments of one or more Islamic countries). These schools reinforce the Koran-based sexual morality learned at home–one that allows polygamy (for men), that prescribes severe penalties for female adulterers and rape victims (though not necessarily for rapists), and that (in the fundamentalist reading, anyway) demands that homosexuals be put to death. If fundamentalist Muslims in Europe do not carry out these punishments, it is not because they’ve advanced beyond such thinking, but because they don’t have the power. Like Christian Reconstructionists, a small U.S. sect that wishes to make harsh Old Testament punishments the law of the land, fundamentalist Muslims–whose numbers are, of course, many times larger–believe firmly in the implementation of scriptural penalties.

The article was published in Partisan Review, Autumn 2002. It goes on at length about the problems that Western Europe is having - and will have - because a large body of immigrants with foreign values was allowed to settle, and not allowed or forced to assimilate.

This is always a problem for the host country. Mexico allowed Austin to settle a colony and two decades later found they had a horde of Anglo-Celts firmly settled in the heart of Texas. Big mistake - they found out far too late that Austin's people were Mexican in name only and held foreign views on citizenship and rights.

I think that America - yes for all our problems - does a far better job of assimilating our immigrants than the folks in Europe. Hell, we seduce them with the very culture they breath. Hmongs picked the wrong side in the Vietnam mess and had to settle here to avoid extinction. Today there are more Hmong in the United States than there are in Indochina. And you can't tell their kids in the mall from the kids whose parents emmigrated from Germany and Poland in the 1880s.

There are reasons not to despair. I wonder about Europe; it may become far worse before it gets better.
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